Front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, diesel, petrol, turbocharged, naturally aspirated – the four model Mazda CX-7 range literally has something to suit everybody. Don’t like the diesel clatter? Perhaps the turbo-charged petrol model is for you. Want to save some dollars at the bowser? Then your choice is the diesel. Want to save some money come purchase time? Then this week’s tester, the CX-7 Classic is perhaps the box you should tick.
Visually, the only way to pick it from its more expensive siblings is the smaller wheels, lack of front fog-lamps and the deleted Mazda badge from the tailgate. Really, trainspotters are the only ones who will realise that you’ve just saved yourself $5000 from the next model up the CX-7’s specification ladder. If you walked past the Classic in a carpark, you’d think it was just another CX-7.
But the real difference is under the skin. The Classic is cheaper by virtue of the fact it has two less driven wheels, and a larger, naturally aspirated petrol engine. Using the engine from the Mazda6 and Mazda3 SP25, the CX-7 Classic makes 2kW less power (120kW) and 22Nm less torque (205Nm), but still retains the familiar Mazda four cylinder sound.
It’s smooth and linear, making most of its grunt near the redline (at 6000rpm), but is quite flexible, too, with peak torque coming in at just 2000rpm – that’s diesel territory. It means it’s happy to amble along at low speed in a quiet and unfussed manner. It’s not the quickest soft-roader around, (0-100km/h in 11.1 seconds) but it responds to throttle inputs immediately and uses its five-speed box to select the best revs for the job, although fuel economy could be improved.
We managed 11.1-litres/100km for city only driving, which is still below Mazda’s urban-only ADR figure of 12.7L/100km; not quite good enough the compete with its diesel sibling (9.3L/100km) but still better than the quicker, turbo-charged petrol model (15.3L/100km). While rolling, the 2.5-litre Classic will overtake reasonably willingly, but this is no drag-race special. Rather, it’s a relaxed, average-paced performer, which relies more on smoothness than shear sprint performance.
Helping this is the automatic transmission which shifts with fluidity and only is really felt on full throttle applications. In manual mode, you push back to shift up and forward to shift down – the more natural way. Using manual changes, it will also hold gears at the rev limiter, but as this car is not designed for any off-roading, it’s hardly necessary.
Yes, unlike the Classic Sports, Luxury Sports and Diesel Sports which are all-wheel-drive, the CX-7 Classic is front-wheel-drive only. In normal day-to-day driving, most drivers would be hard pressed to notice the difference. Stomping on the throttle while turning a corner reveals a tendency to understeer, as well as the minutest amount of torque steer as it tugs at the steering wheel, but most drivers would never press that hard.
Higher speed cornering also produces some tyre squeal from the smaller 17-inch hoops, but steering feedback and appropriate lean means you know when the car is approaching its limits, so you’ll wisely refrain from pushing it that far. So sure, the smaller wheels don’t help it to handle as well as the more expensive CX-7s, but they also soften up the ride to make the Classic the more plush option of the range.
Another area that feels plush is the interior. With comfortable, body hugging front cloth seats, and equipment like auto-headlights, climate control, six-stack CD/MP3 sound system and reversing camera, the CX-7 Classic certainly offers a competitive amount of kit. The steering wheel has audio controls, settings menu access as well as cruise control, so from the driver’s seat you have complete control.
The rear seats are a little flatter and firmer than the fronts but you would never call them uncomfortable. There’s excellent headroom and decent legroom in the back, although you do miss out on air-con vents. You can, however point the centre vent on the centre stack toward the back, but on very hot days it takes a while to reach the rear.
Visibility is excellent all around (the standard reversing camera helps here) although if you sit very low in the driver’s seat the thick A-pillar and wing mirror can block a little of your forward right-hand vision. Best to sit a little higher and forward to account for this.
It’s the pricing, though, that really makes the CX-7 Classic an enticing proposition. The Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass, Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-Trail all are positioned around the same price as the Classic. But none of them have the same edgy and modern styling as the CX-7, with interior quality (excepting the Honda) also nowhere near as good. The CX-7 Classic also has the best ride of the bunch, a five star safety rating and has an unlimited kilometre warranty too.
If you’ve got your heart set on a cheap soft-roader, but are never going to take it off road, the the CX-7 Classic is worthy of serious consideration. It’s smooth, has the quality, space and safety to house the family, and for a CX-7 is priced very keenly. In fact, it’s probably the pick of the bunch.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: